The I Am So Far Behind in My Book Reviews Review

Books Education Electronics Geek Culture Technology

The Book StackThe Book Stack

The end of 2012 is fast approaching, and I’m doing my best to clear my desk, so to speak. I can’t speak for the other GeekDad writers, but it’s always the end of the year when my To Review List starts to really nag at me. It’s unfortunate that my writing speed doesn’t even come close to matching my reading speed, so I’ve ended up with a stack of books that need to be reviewed and a 2012 calendar with a dwindling number of days. My colleague Jonathan Liu likes to taunt his fellow GeekDad writers by posting these great Core Dump reviews of apps, and with the my 2012 book stack giving me the evil eye, I’ve decided to follow his lead and knock that foul beast down once and for all. (Well, that is until the beast reincarnates as my 2013 book stack.) So, without further ado, let me share with you a small collection of books that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed and believe you will, too.

Guitar World Presents The Best Instruction Book Ever!

Guitar CoverGuitar Cover

With a title like that, you’re probably wondering (as I did) if the publisher truly can deliver on the promise. I’ve got me a PRS in the basement that’s been whispering to me for years give me another try… give me another try. I’m happy to say that this full-color book (and the fun DVD that comes with it) have actual gotten me over the small hump that I’ve struggled with for years — reading TAB. I’ve always hated trying to decipher chords and music sheets, and I’ve read quite a few books on TAB, so I can verify that the methods used to teach basic guitar early in the book work well. Now, no book is going to do the actual practicing for you. And you’d be crazy to think a book can teach you guitar without putting in the time. But if you are willing to put in that time, you can find enough instruction here to get fairly competent with strumming, power chords, scales, and much more.

Scattered throughout the book are short interviews with famous guitarists — they give you a few words of wisdom on tuning, picking, setting practice goals, developing your own sound, and just pushing through the frustration. Unless you’re just born to play the guitar and have some innate skill, frustration is a given. But the book has put me back on the right track… and given me some motivation to start playing again. I’m about halfway through the 180 page book and looking forward to finishing it. I’ve quickly picked up on my open major and minor chords and the power chords are really coming back to me. I’m still a long way from memorizing all the finger positions, but I’m having fun with the guitar again.


The included DVD is broken up by chapter, and each of the techniques is covered by a closeup demonstration. Each figure in the book that teaches a chord or technique is easy to find and labeled appropriately on screen so you can find what you need fast. The video tutorials are surprisingly good, with no fluff and no wasting of your time. Jump to the chapter and figure you want to hear and see performed and you’ve got it.

The Editor in Chief of Guitar World, Brad Tolinksi says that the book has been 20 years in the making. It’s truly epic. With over 200 full-color photos and the DVD, this is a great book for anyone old enough to hold a guitar properly. If my son decides he’d like to give the guitar a try, this will be the book I reach for to sit down with him and start learning. I’m very pleased with the layout of The Best Instruction Book Ever! and the thought that’s gone into the structure and order of the content.

Troubleshooting and Repairing Major Appliances


How do you like that transition? From learning the guitar to fixing a washing machine!

First, a warning — you can sustain serious injury if you try to lift this book with your legs. Just kidding. But it’s a monster of a book — 1162 pages if you count the glossary! This isn’t a book that you read through; instead, you turn to one of the 30 chapters that covers the basics of all major appliances and then moves deeper into more specific issues. Early chapters cover basic electronics, safety issues, and how most appliances work. Then the book moves into tools that you’ll most likely need for various repair jobs and there’s a substantial chapter that covers all you need to know about becoming a technician. That’s Part I. Part II of the book then moves into some basic physics that cover electricity and gas issues, equipment, and troubleshooting techniques. Again, I don’t think it’s possible to just sit down and read this book straight through. I’ve been having some issues with our washing machine, so I jumped to that section and that referred back to the more reference-like chapters when I needed a basic primer on some subjects. (I’m okay working with electricity, but plumbing and natural gas are still two areas where I desperately want to improve my skills.)

This is not a book for those uncomfortable taking things apart. I remember growing up and watching my dad take apart the oven and the fridge and thinking this was completely normal. He told me years ago that just after he and my mother were married, they didn’t have a lot of funds for new appliances or even repairs. It was necessity that drove him to take apart things to learn how they work, and he told me that he always knew in the back of his mind that if he reached a point where he was in over his head, he’d call in a pro. Thankfully, that didn’t happen much growing up in the Kelly household, and I was allowed to help him here and there with repairs and installations of various kinds. Still, my dad had quite the learning curve when he was a young married man, and I can’t help but imagine how much he would have loved to have this book with its cutaway diagrams, carefully labeled danger spots, and exploded views of the most common replaceable components. I was blown away by the actual flowchart pages that are available for dozens of appliances. Pages 418 through 425, for example, contain a number of flowcharts for a dishwasher. Figure 14-58 is labeled Dishwasher runs continuously. Does the Timer dial move/change? Yes? Check switch contacts? No? Check Timer Motor for continuity. Is it open? Yes? Replace the timer. No? Is there continuity at the thermostat located under tub or in control panel? No? Replace the thermostat.

Don’t worry if that’s Greek to you. It was to me, too, until I got my hands into a dishwasher a few years back and realized how short the list is of things that can actually go wrong. And that’s what I’m finding with a lot of the appliances that I’m reading about in this book. Yes, I’m the kind of guy who will actually read a chapter on garbage disposals to learn more about how they work and how to repair them. I’ve always enjoyed learning how things work, and this book is like brain candy for me. The book has it all — water heaters (electric and gas), top load and front load washers, dishwasher, dryers, electric ranges and ovens, gas ranges and ovens, microwave ovens, fridges, freezers, ice cube makers, air conditioners, and dehumidifiers. I’m sure I’ve missed a few, too.

Even if you never expect to make your own repairs, it’s a worthy book to have on your shelf. First, it’ll look darn impressive to anyone who sees it. And second, you might actually open it and take a quick look the next time you’re facing a $75 trip fee plus $150 labor fee plus $200 parts fee… you get the idea. You never know when the appliance issue might be something as simple as resetting an internal switch or just checking that a hose hasn’t come lose.

Troubleshooting and Repairing Major Appliances is written by Eric Kleinert, a pro with 40 years of hands-on repair and teaching experience — probably a seriously reliable source for this kind of book. Now I’m off to figure out what’s going on with my washing machine.

Building the Fastest Pinewood Derby Car

pinewood derbypinewood derby

You can read my review of the other four Pinewood Derby books from Fox Chapel Publishing. What you’re going to find are some of the coolest books EVER on cutting, drilling, painting, balancing, and racing a pinewood derby racer. So why another book? Glad you asked. While this new book certainly has some overlap with the other three books (mainly with advice on cutting and drilling), it’s the new designs and techniques that make it a nice addition to the collection.

The book uses the same cartoon character, Dash Derby, and he’s got two new friends, Max Design and Professor Speed. These characters provide some fun and colorful antics to the discussions that include wheel balancing, building a test track, and using tungsten weights. There are a number of new car designs (my favorite has to be Quick Comet) — templates are provided for all of them so you can duplicate the shape and style of your favorite.

Like the other Fox Chapel pinewood derby books, this one is in full color, offering super-detailed photos of the various aspects of creating a racer. I’m very impressed with the simple yet easy-to-follow instructions for using a variety of tools (some hand tools and a few machine tools). The book also demonstrates two commercially available products called Derby Worx Pro Body Tool and the Derby Worx Pro-Wheel Shaver XT — I wasn’t aware of these tools but based on the photos, they appear to be providing some serious benefits with their machined bodies that are used as jigs. Pinewood Derby is going high-tech!

The back cover talks about additional benefits of the book that include expert priming and painting instructions to give your car an automotive-quality finish and up-to-date materials and techniques for weighting and alignment.

Building the Fastest Pinewood Derby Car is written by Troy Thorne and is 135 pages of full-color instructions.

Encyclopedia of Electronic Components Volume 1

electronics componentselectronics components

I’ve written previously about Charles Platt’s Make: Electronics book — I think it’s pretty much the best choice for anyone wanting to learn electronics. I spent a year documenting my progress and thoughts as I worked through the book’s 30+ exercises, and two years later I’m enjoying a comfort level I never had before with soldering, reading schematics, and testing my own circuits and projects.

Well, Mr. Platt has come through again for electronic hobbyists, but this time it’s not a hands-on book but a new reference guide. The Encyclopedia of Electronic Components is the first of three volumes (from Volume 1′s Preface: Volume 2 will cover integrated circuits, light sources, sound sources, heat sources, and high-frequency sources and Volume 3 will cover sensing devices — light, sound, heat, motion, pressure, gas, humidity, orientation, electricity, proximity, force, and radiation.)

Volume 1 covers what are typically considered the most basic and most widely used components for standard hobbyist electronic work. Each chapter covers a different type of component, but the chapters all follow a basic outline. Each chapter starts by defining what the component does and then explains how it works. Variants of a component are discussed, and this is where you get the real value in the book — solid coverage of all the variations of a component and a lot of cutaway diagrams that explain differences in shape, function, and style. I’ll admit to ignoring a lot of the graphs and more scientific explanations, but what information I do need is always easy to find.

This isn’t a book that I’ve read through completely. Instead, I’ve jumped around quite a bit and focused on those components that I’m currently using in a small electronics project I’m building. Platt discusses in the Preface the reason and logic behind the new series, and I think he’s got a home run on his hands here. He explains quite plainly why the book exists and why he chooses to ignore data sheets, Wikipedia, personal guides, and other sources of information and instead present the information in a manner that a DIYer/hobbyist should find more suitable.

The book is full-color, just like Make: Electronics… same size and format as well. The font is large and easy on the eyes, and there’s a lot of color-coding in the text where variations of components are discussed and/or terminology is introduced. Each chapter ends with a What Can Go Wrong discussion that provides common troubleshooting suggestions.

All in all, it’s an outstanding book for novices or experts, but beginners who are looking for more detail on how components work (more than the Make: Electronics book provides) will get it here. Components covered include: Battery, Jumper, Fuse, Pushbutton, Switch, Rotary Switch, Rotational Encoder, Relay, Resistor, Potentiometer, Capacitor, Variable Resistor, Inductor, AC-AC Transformer, AC-DC Power Supply, DC-DC Converter, DC-AC Inverter (Yes!!), Voltage Regulator, Electromagnet, Solenoid, DC Motor, AC Motor, Servo Motor, Stepper Motor, Diode, Unijunction Transistor, Bipolar Transistor, and Field Effect Transistor. Twenty-nine chapters plus an appendix containing all the schematic symbols and their variations.

Like I said — if you’re wanting to learn electronics, you cannot go wrong with the Make: Electronics book. It’s been two years since I worked my way through it, and I’m just blown away at how comfortable I am working with electronics, especially reading schematics and wiring them up on a breadboard. It would have been great to have had Volume 1 Encyclopedia of Electronic Components while I was working my way through the exercises, but I’m just glad to have the book in my library now. If you’ve got someone who enjoys electronics as a hobby, they’ll love this book as a reference source.

Steampunk: An Illustrated History of Fantastical Fiction, Fanciful Film and Other Victorian Visions

steampunk coversteampunk cover

Those of you who follow my book reviews know I’ve got a strong love of Steampunk. I took a break from it for a while, but I’m glad to be back. There’s been a number of new steampunk-related fiction books released lately that I’m going to be reading over the holidays, but I do love a good non-fiction Steampunk book and one was recently delivered into my hands from the folks at Voyageur Press. And it is beautiful!

Steampunk: An Illustrated History of Fantastical Fiction, Fanciful Film and Other Victorian Visions is a 190-page full-color hardback that describes itself as the definitive illustrated history of the writers, film-makers, artisans and aesthetes who created the world’s most extraordinary genre. You may choose to debate the world’s most extraordinary genre part, but not with me… I’m in complete agreement.

First, the book’s got none other than James P. Blaylock providing the Foreword. I’ve read all his steampunk stuff, and since he is credited as being one of the three men who began the genre (the other two being Tim Powers and K.W. Jeter), it’s nice to get his back-story on how this genre looked in the mid to late ’70s.

Spread 1Spread 1

One of my favorite parts of the book is the opening chapter, The Gilded Age. I think it’s sometimes easy to forget that the Victorian Period did indeed already have a strong interest in science; steampunk didn’t drop the steam, gears, and brass trappings on the time period… it was there and in full bloom, with real-life inventors and adventurers making the news. Of course, it was the writers of the time period that have provided us with not just fictional expectations of the time but also real-world concerns, technology, and politics that have heavily influenced today’s modern steampunk fiction. The book provides a solid background on all the early writers that we know and some that are completely new to me. Important figures (Tesla, anyone?) are given ample coverage.

The chapters include discussions of the relationship between cyberpunk and steampunk, how fiction has changed the Victorian society to fit with the steampunk vision, and some really great coverage of women in Victorian society versus how they are portrayed in modern-day steampunk. Movies, games, graphic novels, TV shows (hey, Brisco County, Jr.!), and music are all explored, and the layout, colors, and design of the full-page spreads and figures are perfectly selected to support the discussion at hand.

spread 2spread 2

I love a good steampunk fiction tale, but I also enjoy a good steampunk reference book that can explain to me (again) why I’m so fascinated with the genre and why I’m in good company. I often hear that steampunk is losing its steam, but I don’t think so. I think evolving might be a better explanation, and the subtle in-roads that steampunk is making into television, fashion, movies, and even music are unmistakeable if you keep your eyes and ears open.

Nope… steampunk isn’t dying, and books like Steampunk: An Illustrated History of Fantastical Fiction, Fanciful Film and Other Victorian Visions continue to provide sound arguments that steampunk is not only alive and well but actually thriving.

Note: I’d like to thank the publishers for providing me with review copies of these books. And now… time to go build a steampunk-themed guitar with derby car wheels so I can race it down my repaired washing machine!

Liked it? Take a second to support GeekDad and GeekMom on Patreon!